ANCHORAGE - Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell announced Thursday he will push legislation aimed at addressing the state's domestic violence and sexual assaults, social ills he called epidemic.
Parnell called for a 10-year initiative, then ticked off grim Alaska statistics: the highest sexual assault rate in the nation, roughly 2.5 times higher than the national average, plus a rate of child sexual assault that's six times the national average.
"The time to tackle this issue is long overdue," he said.
Parnell called for a three-prong approach: putting abusers behind bars and keeping them there, providing shelter space and legal aid to victims, and launching a public education campaign to persuade Alaskans that sexual abuse and domestic violence are socially unacceptable.
Parnell announced the plan in the auditorium of Bartlett High School, with a lectern in front of 30 law enforcement officers posed on choir risers. Flanking Parnell were cabinet members, legislators and other dignitaries, including state Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter L. Carpeneti.
Attorney General Dan Sullivan called on students in the audience to stigmatize domestic violence and sexual assault so that potential offenders will know they will face irreparable social consequences as well as legal consequences. Sullivan said he will direct prosecutors to be relentless with repeat offenders and will not bargain with first-time offenders.
"We will not permit plea agreements that allow offenders to escape the requirement for being placed on the state's sexual offender registry," Sullivan said.
Though the plan carries a heavy dose of deterrence through fear of incarceration, it carries no new money for the Department of Corrections. Parnell said his legislation would cost $6.7 million, including $3 million for the Department of Public Safety, part of which would pay to hire 15 new village public safety officers next year. He called for 15 more rural officers to be hired annually for a decade.
The plan calls for hiring 11 new sexual assault investigators - three hired with state funds and eight with federal stimulus money.
The attorney general's office would be in line for more than $2.3 million to retain 17 to 20 prosecutors and paralegals who had been paid with federal grant money that's ending.
With the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Assault and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Parnell said, the state will promote an extensive public education campaign encouraging Alaska men to "Choose Respect" for women and children.
In one video advertisement, Parnell himself appears, telling how his grandfather was an abusive alcoholic, but that his own father chose a different path and taught it to his sons.